Drake didn’t want his Degrassi: the next generation character of being in a wheelchair – and made a big deal out of it.
For the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere, the AV Club spoke with the cast and crew of the popular Canadian teen drama. While the now 34-year-old “In My Feelings” rapper did not participate, stories have been told of his seven seasons with Jimmy Brooks – back when he was called his first name, Aubrey Graham. There were specific stories about how, after Jimmy was left paralyzed – in a two-part episode involving a school shooting following Columbine aired in 2004 – Drake apparently didn’t want to be wheelchair user on the show and got his lawyer involved.
âThere was a letter from a Toronto law firm, and it was from Aubrey,â said writer James Hurst, âIt was a strange letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham is not coming back to Degraded season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury was healed and he got out of the wheelchair. I said, ‘Bring him down here.’ “
Hurst said he confronted Drake, who was around 19 at the time, about the letter, and the young star claimed he had nothing to do with it.
“I said, ‘Okay, I understand. But what do you think of the wheelchair? “” asked Hurst. “He said to me, ‘All my friends in rap say I’m sweet because I’m in a wheelchair.’ And I said, ‘Well tell your friends in rap that you got shot above. How much harder can you get? “â¦ He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He was so nice and apologized for everything. He immediately backed up. “
Hurst said he told Drake, âAubrey, there’s a kid in a wheelchair somewhere who’s completely ignored, who’s never on TV, who’s never portrayed. I need you to represent this person. You are the coolest kid on the show and you can tell there is nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.
Shane Kippel, who played Spinner, admitted: “[Thereâs] apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to portray someone who is confined in a wheelchair if you yourself are fully capable. But this concerns [Aubrey] and how he felt about it. “
Lauren Collins, who was Paige, added: “I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically, having to do all of a sudden [all his acting while] confined to a chair. It was really hard for him. I certainly have some memories of him knocking over the chair and falling off the makeshift ramps they had built for him. “
Collins added, “I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think [Aubrey] probably struggled with the idea that he was one of the two black characters on the show, and that he was the one who found himself dejected and in a wheelchair, which is obviously part of a much larger conversation. “
According to the authors, there has been talk of Jimmy’s cure with surgery. The character underwent stem cell treatment and at the end of his run used crutches, especially to graduate from the graduation episode.
Drake has not commented publicly on the allegations and his representative has not responded to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment.
The show made Drake a big star and he pursued a rap career. It was nominated for 47 Grammy Awards and won four, including Best Rap Album for 2011 Take care.
Drake’s video for his song “I’m Upset” took him back to Degraded and featured it bringing together several of its former cast members, including Collins and Kippel.